Why Do Marriages Fail After An Affair?

By: Katie Lersch: I sometimes hear from people who are trying to educate themselves about the challenges that they, and their marriage, might be facing after their spouse cheats or has an affair. Many are at least somewhat open to the idea of saving their marriage. But, they have concerns as to how feasible this really is. Many want to know ahead of time what might go wrong so that they can see the problems coming before hand.

A common concern is something like: “my husband had a four month affair with a former teacher of his grown daughter’s. Actually, it was my step daughter who told me about the affair because she opposed the relationship. Apparently, my husband and the other woman were talking about running away together and leaving their families. And my step daughter didn’t want to see this happen to me. I appreciate her telling me, but this has been a very painful process. My husband swears that he still loves me and now wants to save the marriage. I have a very hard time believing this. I don’t understand how it’s possible that just a month ago, he was planning a getaway with her and now all of a sudden, the marriage is good enough for him once again so that he wants to fight for it. It is hard for me to envision what type of marriage we might have in the future.  And this is if I even agree to attempt to salvage this marriage. I’m just curious as to why marriages fail after an affair. What is it that does the marriage in? Is it the affair? Or is it what comes after the affair?”

I’m not a therapist of statistician. But I can tell you what I notice in my own life and the trends that I notice from people who comment on my blog. I have my theories – but that is all they are. Below, I’ll tell you some of the things that I think contributes to a marriage crumbling under the weight of an affair. But I want to stress that just because I am listing an item, this doesn’t mean that it is applicable to your case or that it will happen to you. The whole point of learning what might be a problem is using that information to avoid it. Here are things that I commonly see or hear about below.

The Anger Never Goes Away: This is a very common issue that I see cropping up over and over again. The couple may have done extensive work and tried very hard. But, for whatever reason, the faithful spouse just can not let go of the anger. As a result, things are strained and they remain so. You will often hear the cheating spouse say things like: “I will never be able to win. I will always be punished. I’ll forever be on her bad side.”

And, when this dynamic is set up, it’s very hard to have true intimacy or genuine joy in your marriage. I know first hand that it can be hard to let go of the anger. But it’s often easier if you work very hard on making yourself whole individually when you are the faithful spouse. This may mean restoring your self esteem and making things OK with you outside of your marriage. This means pursuing what you love and what you need as an individual. Why? Because it builds your confidence and your happiness so that you feel safe and ready to let go of the anger.

The Trust Is Never Restored: Sometimes, both people work very hard and the marriage is partially healed. There may even be times when both people feel happy once again. But, there’s always that sense of distrust. There’s always that time when the husband comes home late or is on the phone just a little too long when the wife starts to worry that he may be cheating again. This is understandable if it happens sometimes. But, in some cases, it happens all of the time. The faithful spouse just can not establish any lasting trust and is always worrying that this is going to happen once again. So, neither person can fully relax, which is never a fun situation. I will admit that restoring the trust is hard. And usually, it just takes the passage of time to gain that confidence. But, the cheating spouse can help their cause by being completely transparent and forthcoming. No secrets. No being evasive.  And, the faithful spouse can commit to taking a leap of faith, unless and until their spouse does something to jeopardize that faith.

The Healing Is Never Completed Or Attempted Because It’s Easier To Gloss Over The Problems: This is a broad reason, but I see it happening very often. Of course you want to for your life to get back to normal after the affair. You want to feel right again. Your spouse may be pressuring you also. It’s very common to just throw up your hands and to want to make things at least feel acceptable again as soon as you possibly can. So you may choke down your anger or forego those questions that you have. Or, you may excuse your spouse from going to counseling because he is so resistant to it and it’s only seeming to make things worse. But, when you do that, you delay or even negate your healing. And if you do not make healing a priority, as painful and as difficult as it may be, then you might end up with a marriage that is still very damaged and still just a shell of its former self. People will often just hope that it gets better, but without anything to help it along, it sometimes doesn’t get better. And no one wants to live this way forever.

I don’t mean for this article to be depressing. Many couples go on to have successful and fulfilling marriages after an affair. But it isn’t always easy. It can be a lot of work. But, if this work can ensure that you aren’t continuing to live in a strained and failing marriage with all of that anger and resentment, then in my view, it’s worth it. If it helps, you can read about my own recovery after the affair on my blog at http://surviving-the-affair.com

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